CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) NASCAR chairman Brian France, who for at least two years has pushed for racing to become more of a `contact sport,’ believes Brad Keselowski did nothing wrong in the way he raced Jeff Gordon in the closing laps at Texas Motor Speedway.
Keselowski tried to wedge his car into a gap between Gordon and Jimmie Johnson on a late restart in an attempt by Keselowski to win the race. It caused contact between Keselowski and Gordon, who got a flat tire and spun after the incident. Gordon went from racing for the win to a 29th-place finish and confronted Keselowski after the race in a scene that quickly escalated into a brawl between teams.
France felt Keselowski did exactly what NASCAR expects from drivers racing for a win.
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”He did exactly what I would expect any driver that has that much on the line to look at an opportunity, shoot a gap is what he did,” France said on SiriusXM Radio. ”It was unfortunate that they touched and that Gordon’s tire got cut and all the things that happened for him. Very unfortunate. (But) late in the race, things are going to happen when guys are legitimately trying to win races or compete at a high level.”
Both drivers are trying for one of four berths in the Nov. 16 championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. A win in any of the three races of the third round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship earns a driver an automatic berth into the finale, and both Gordon and Keselowski were racing for that spot.
The win instead went to Jimmie Johnson, and the eight-driver Chase field heads into Sunday’s race at Phoenix with all four spots at Homestead still up for grabs.
As far back as 2012, when NASCAR was beginning a series of rule changes to improve the on-track product, France has pushed for drivers to let it all hang out when a win is on the line.
”There aren’t a whole lot of people who don’t want to see more lead changes, or a photo finish, or slamming and banging coming out of the fourth turn,” France said prior to speaking at the 2012 Beyond Sport’s annual summit in London. ”We are unabashed about wanting that. It’s a contact sport and if you have a chance to win and are in second place on the last lap, would I expect there to be some contact if you have a faster car? Absolutely.”
But there are consequences that come with delivering that action, which Keselowski learned following Sunday’s race when he was left spitting blood following the pit road brawl. The situation was escalated when Kevin Harvick shoved Keselowski into a scrum of crew members, a push Harvick defended as his way of making Keselowski answer for his aggressive racing.
Denny Hamlin has argued the gap Keselowski tried to squeeze through was not large enough for him to expect to clear Gordon without contact, and all drivers need to understand that will lead to confrontation.
”If I was in that car and his shoes, I would have to know that I’m not going to make it through that hole without having contact of some sort,” Hamlin said. ”That’s fine. But if it costs somebody a bad day, you’re going to have to expect retaliation.”
CHASE ELLIOTT: It’s mathematically possible for Chase Elliott to win the Nationwide Series race this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, which hosts the penultimate race of the season.
Elliott takes a 48-point lead into Saturday’s race over JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith. He can win the title if he loses no ground in the standings at Phoenix, and the 18-year-old would become the youngest champion in any of NASCAR’s three national series.
”It would be phenomenal. It would mean the world to me, and not just me, but our team and our sponsors,” Elliott said. ”We’ll give it our best shot to do so. We’d still like to have another win or two before the year is out, so that’s our main goal. The biggest thing about the points, I think, is keeping it as simple as knowing you get the most points for finishing highest up at the end of the day. I think that’s about as simple and as much as you need to worry about it.
”So we’ll give it our best shot each week and hope for the best and wherever it unfolds, it unfolds.”
A championship would also be the first for JR Motorsports, which is jointly owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., his sister and Rick Hendrick.
In the team owners’ championship race, Team Penske leads Joe Gibbs Racing by 26 points. Kyle Busch will drive this weekend for Gibbs and has three consecutive Nationwide wins at Phoenix. Brad Keselowski will drive the Penske entry.
HAMMER DOWN: NASCAR is racing into kids’ living rooms with an all-new docu-series on Nickelodeon titled ”Hammer Down.”
The show was scheduled to premiere Wednesday during the NickSports programming block on Nicktoons.
”Hammer Down” is a four-episode series featuring Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Kenzie Ruston, and is the latest programming from a major sports league to join the sports block lineup. The series airs every Wednesday evening.
”Hammer Down” will consist of eight- to 12-minute episodes that will give audiences an all-access pass into the young athletes’ lives as they aspire to become elite NASCAR drivers.